Over the recent decade there has been a severe shift in type of terrorism and radicalisation, most which now appears to focus on religion. The consensus is that recent attacks such as the Charlie Hebdo atrocity and of course the most recent attack in Manchester are primarily due to Islamic extremism. Although these attacks have been associated with Islam-specifically ISIS- we as a nation cannot put the blame on the religion itself. A minority group within one of the largest religion cannot be allowed to appear representative. Through this article, I will attempt to present different arguments for the reasons for radicalisation and therefore provide insight against the common mistake that it is inherently the Islamic faiths fault.
It would be inaccurate to assume that Islam is entirely free from blame for the radicalisation of minority groups. Of course, the clear majority of Muslims are peaceful, however, even though this is the case, the very text that forms the basis of Islam, explicitly justifies violence in certain situations. For example, the Qur’an justifies violence for blasphemy regarding the Islamic faith, adultery, or when family honour is threatened (Hirsi Ali, 2015). If we look at recent events, such as the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the Kouachi brothers believed that the magazine had committed offenses of Blasphemy against their faith, which they tried to use to justify their killing spree of January 7th, 2015. This also links to other terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Al Qaeda who frequently cite religious texts when advocating violence and terror (Hirsi, 2015). One cannot simply look at radical groups either, countries also follow this initial ruling of the Islamic faith. For example, in Pakistan and Iran, criticism of the Prophet Muhammad is punishable by death and homosexuality is a crime punishable by hanging (ibid). However, Said counters this by stating that there are few and only minor parts of the faith that have any relation with violence, we must educate people to realise that Islam is not necessarily violent by nature (Said, 1997). We as a society, cannot use this to justify the labelling of Islam as a radical or even inherently violent faith. The Bible for instance, arguably presents more violent tendencies than the Qur’an and it has had more time to modernise.
Due to most strands of Islam following peaceful paths, there must be a different factor that is underlying in order to create such clear Islamophobia in Western society. I would argue that this is the media’s portrayal of the Islamic faith. The media takes most of the responsibility for the perceptions of Islam over recent years since it creates opinion for those who have limited contact or experience with the religion and its people (Ogan, 2013). It is possible to suggest that this rise in Islamophobia and therefore opposition to integration has grown since 9/11, where the media used a racial generalisation of Islam as a scapegoat for terrorist acts and as a tactic for healing the ‘intellectually injured society’ of western culture (Jocelyne, 2010). It is not simply a generalisation of the faith being inherently violent that creates an obstacle for integration but the actual generalisation of every member of this belief being the same. This severe oversimplification creates inaccurate and stigmatised beliefs around millions of people. If we are constantly presenting an ill-informed image in the name of devils-advocate, then there is no wonder that a large amount of society blames Islam for the radicalisation of minorities. The media creates a machine of representation, determining what and who gets represented and simultaneously what gets left out (Hall 1978). This one-sided representation leads to Islamophobia being portrayed as the only way of thinking, this in turn leads to some strands of Islam becoming angered against Western interpretation and representation of their religion. Thus, leading to an inescapable circle, with both sides feeding each other’s hatred and agendas.
Various scholars and journalists also present the process of Western intervention as a radicalising factor. Our counter terrorism programmes through intervention has arguably led to an increased threat. Professor Pape of the University of Chicago studied every case of suicide terrorism between 1980-2005 and concluded that the clear majority of incidents had little connection with Islamic fundamentalism, rather they had secular and strategic goals of compelling modern democracies to withdraw from territories that the radicalised individuals considered their homelands. In fact, Eastern political instability is frequently made worse by Western intervention. US intervention in Iraq caused a rupture in society, destroying institutions and allowing Al ’Qaeda to fill the political vacuum that was created. The political instability allows radical groups to present themselves as vanguards for social change, increasing the support for the minority group. Mehdi Hasan (a political journalist) stated that radical groups only work in an environment of despair and poverty, therefore Western intervention having detrimental effects on Eastern society and culture, as opposed to intervening and supporting communities allows radicalisation to thrive and increase. Clearly suggesting, that blaming Islam as a faith for radicalisation and acts of terror is inherently flawed.
In the groundings of Islam, there are passages that justify violence, however this is not too different from other religious texts such as the Bible. There are far more pressing contributions that allow Western society to blame Islam. For instance, the media’s homogenous presentation of a relatively elusive religion leads to biased and unsupported opinion forming. Also, western acts of intervention in Eastern territories, leading to further political instability create an environment that allows radical groups to flourish. Perhaps, if instead of fighting terror, we helped less privileged eastern societies, the flourishing of vanguard groups would halt. I cannot suggest the reason for radicalisation, due to it being such an intricate matter, however, I think it is clear that the blame cannot solely be put on the Islamic faith.
We are devastated by what happened on Monday. Our thoughts are with everyone affected by the attack at the Manchester Arena. Rest in peace to the innocent and beautiful lives we lost as a result of this evil mans cowardly actions. We will not be divided and Manchester will continue to be a strong community filled with character, faith and love.
By Joshua Brown,
History and Political Science undergraduate at the University of Birmingham.